Scottish doctors should seek guidance before whistleblowing

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Doctors in Scotland who have concerns about colleagues over patient safety issues should act swiftly and seek advice.

The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) is urging Scottish doctors not to deal with whistleblowing concerns on their own and instead speak to a senior colleague or contact their medical defence organisation for expert and objective advice.

This advice comes as a new whistleblowers’ helpline that allows NHS staff to raise concerns in confidence is launched by the Scottish government, with the piloted service being run by an independent organisation, Public Concern at Work.

The issue of whistleblowing was recently highlighted in the findings of the Francis inquiry where the failings at Stafford Hospital confirmed the need for an environment where doctors can raise concerns in the interest of patient safety without fear of recrimination.

MDDUS Joint Head of Medical Division Dr Anthea Martin reminds doctors that they have a professional obligation to raise concerns when they believe that patients may be at risk. This duty is clearly defined by the GMC.

“Raising concerns is never an easy thing to do,” says Dr Martin. “There are fears that speaking out could jeopardise a health professional’s career. However, if there is concern about patient safety then doctors are required to speak up.

“MDDUS strongly advise doctors to call their medical defence organisation, once they have discussed their initial concerns with their line manager or Medical Director if in a managed service, or to a senior partner or health board medical director if in general practice.”

As well as creating a more open and transparent working culture, doctors who raise concerns can be crucial in helping to raise standards but they must act honestly and should also be prepared to justify their actions.

“Speaking out on patient safety issues, systems or on a colleague’s conduct will be a matter of individual professional judgement but at all times GMC guidance must be at the forefront of a doctor’s mind,” adds Dr Martin.

“It is important to have read the guidance before embarking on this path.”

Doctors have a duty to put patients’ interests first and act to protect them, this overrides personal and professional loyalties, according to the GMC publication Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety.

The guidance states that doctors do not need to wait for proof – and will be able to justify raising concerns if they do so honestly and on the basis of reasonable belief and through appropriate channels, even if they are mistaken.

GMC’s Good Medical Practice also informs doctors that they must “protect patients from risk of harm posed by another colleague’s conduct, performance or health by taking appropriate steps immediately so that the concerns are investigated and patients are protected where necessary.”

Some protection is afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, with the law providing “legal protection against victimisation or dismissal for individuals who reveal information to raise genuine concerns and expose malpractice in the workplace.”

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com.

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